UK: Asylum - new opinion poll shows many young people worryingly ill-informed

However, the poll - commissioned by Amnesty International UK, Refugee Action and Refugee Council - also shows that more than half of polled young people (51%) believe that asylum-seekers in the UK should have the same right to education, liberty and work as British nationals. A third disagreed.

The human rights and refugee organisations responded to the poll's findings by warning that the government needs to reverse its harsh asylum policies and foster a more informed and humane public debate on asylum issues. They also emphasised the importance of awareness-raising projects like Refugee Week, with its programme of events helping to demonstrate the positive contribution made by refugees to the United Kingdom.

Speaking on behalf of the agencies, Fazil Kawani, Chair of Refugee Week 2003, said:

'The poll appears to confirm what we have long believed - that harsh government policies, a diet of unfair media coverage and a lack of informed debate is creating a generation for whom 'asylum' is seen in negative terms.

'On an encouraging note, young people view the human rights to education, work and liberty as overwhelming 'positives' that should not be denied anyone.'

However, the government's current asylum policy prevents asylum-seekers from working while their claims are being processed. The government detains hundreds of asylum-seekers who have committed no crimes, including those whose claims are in the initial stages, and has plans to remove asylum-seeking Children's rights from mainstream education.

The key findings of the research amongst young people show that:

  • 58% believe that asylum-seekers and refugees do not make a positive contribution to the UK (in fact various assessments have shown the reverse to be true; for example a recent Home Office report estimated that foreign-born people - including refugees and asylum seekers - contribute a surplus of about 10% to government revenues, equivalent to £2.5bn a year - or 1p on the basic rate of income tax)*
  • 23% believe that Britain should not offer safe haven to people fleeing war or persecution - 57% agreed with the proposition that Britain should offer protection (in fact the UK has a legal obligation to allow people to seek asylum)
  • 48% believe that only few asylum-seekers in the UK are genuine (in fact close to a half are recognised as having legitimate grounds to remain in the UK)
  • 51% believe that the rights to education, liberty and work should apply to asylum-seekers as well as British nationals (the government currently does not allow asylum-seekers to work while they make a claim and hundreds of asylum-seekers are detained despite having committed no crime)
  • Fazil Kawani said:

    'Overall this MORI poll makes for worrying reading and should be interpreted as a 'call for action.'

    'The government should respond to this poll by reversing its harsh asylum policies while seeking to re-cast the asylum question in a wholly new light.

    'The poll should also serves to underline why schemes like 'Refugee Week' are vital. The positive side of the asylum story also needs to be told.'

    Notes

    * The migrant population in the UK: fiscal effects, RDS Occasional Paper 77, 2002.

    Percentage figures referred to do not equal 100% as they do not include 'don't knows'

    The MORI poll Refugee Week 2003: A survey of 15-24 year olds was conducted with a representative sample of 289 respondents aged 15-24 during 8-12 May 2003 face-to-face in their homes. Data have been weighted to reflect the national profile of 15-24 year olds. The full MORI poll is available on request.

    More information about Refugee Week 2003 (16-22 June 2003), celebrating the contribution of refugees to the UK, comprises a series of nationwide events during and after Refugee Week can be found online from: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=19

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